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“Who I am as Kara feels broken. I’m trying to be myself again, but everything that used to make me feel good has disappeared.”
That’s Supergirl at the start of Season 3, which begins with a fantastic double-bill of character-driven drama. We pick up after Season 2’s moving finale, which saw Kara (Melissa Benoist) send Mon-El away from Earth in a bid to prevent him dying – all so she could save the human race. And Season 3 doesn’t skimp on the trauma, grief or pain caused by Kara’s sacrifice: it embraces it.
That might sound like a distinct change of tone for The CW’s female-led superhero series, but Season 3’s achievement lies in the way that it can explore that melancholy and darkness without losing the uplifting, inspiring qualities that makes Supergirl, well, Supergirl. That’s partly thanks an amusing supporting cast that includes Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), Winn (Jeremy Jordan), J’onn (David Harewood) and Alex (Chyler Leigh). But it’s also because the show is full of plenty of equally strong women and interesting new villains – and, we’ll wager, often at the same time.
Kara, we learn, is having nightmares about Mon-El, in which he dies – less a vision of a grief and loss (although there is that too) and more a manifestation of guilt. And Melissa Benoist is on fine form, conveying both of those emotions with the kind of convincing sincerity that has made her a perfect fit for Supergirl’s cape. And so she throws herself into her heroic deeds with a determined, almost scowling intensity. Because Supergirl is the one concrete, unchanging thing she can rely on.
It’s a moving piece of writing that highlights just how far the show has come, even with its uneven second season: after trying for so long to find a balance between the two halves of her identity, Season 3 opens by reminding us that it’s both parts together that make her who she is, and that if one of those slips, she’s not quite herself. And so she becomes abrasive and blunt towards the rest of the Supergirl gang, even Alex. Just to emphasise that, she quits CatCo altogether, leaving a surprised James to run the place.
But CatCo is already facing another shock: the announcement by Morgan Edge (already a new contender for our favourite name on the show) that he’s going to buy the place. He’s a sleazy, rich, white man, who has no problem with sneering at Lena, who tries to stop him – and has even less of a problem hiring Villain of the Week Bloodsport to destroy a new statue of Supergirl by the waterfront, not least because it helps him with his evil plans for the housing estates there. No wonder he wants to buy CatCo: it gives him control over how to present such events.
But there’s good news in the air, as Supergirl saves the day (naturally) and Lena steps up to buy CatCo herself, thereby saving it from Morgan’s clutches altogether. She even gets to deliver a crushing put-down for good measure: “Morgan, you have all the charisma of a 1990s Michael Douglas movie.”
And what of Cat Grant? She’s found a new vocation: White House press secretary. Yes, after Season 2’s finale saw her team up with the female alien POTUS to kick butt and dispatch witty insults, she finds a natural home there full-time. It’s an inspired idea by the show’s writers, who clearly learned from Season 2 that Supergirl without Cat Grant just isn’t Supergirl. With Calista Flockhart not relocating to Vancouver with the series, though, putting her in the White House means that she can film those scenes separately and appear as frequently as the show wants. (The highlight of these opening episodes is her insisting that the president does believe in climate change because she’s not an idiot.)
A move that’s right for the character and for the show? It’s these kind of tweaks that The CW’s comic book series are increasingly good at, and, while James briefly mentions Guardian, there’s no sign of him yet this season, as he focused on trying to run CatCo – just as Lena turns up and decides to take a hands-on approach. Lena’s growth as a character continues to impress, promising to develop her in the same way that Winn moving to the DEO did him. It also gives the show more opportunities to explore Lena and Kara’s friendship, which, as you’d expect, is fraught with new tension.
“I didn’t spend $750 million on a company as a favour to a friend,” points out Lena, as she calls out Kara for repeatedly leaving the workplace to do Supergirl duties – and, if that wasn’t suspicious enough the last two seasons, failing to have the conscientiousness that Kara normally does to make sure she isn’t letting CatCo down.
That needling from Lena helps to nudge Kara back towards normality once more, and Supergirl charts that journey neatly with its second Villain of the Week: Psi (Yael Grobglas, clearly enjoying herself), a metahuman bank robber who uses fear to inflict pain and incapacitate people. For Kara, that seems to be childhood memories of Krypton destroying, but it’s actually fear that she’s sent Mon-El’s pod on an equally deadly space voyage – and Kara can only learn to beat Psi (Winn does try to make a psychic dampener, but it doesn’t really work) if she is able to come to terms with her guilt and overcome it.
Alex, of course, helps with that, and within two episodes, Supergirl does a beautiful job of giving Kara time to heal without sacrificing the typically upbeat tone of the programme, as the focus is very much on the positive support provided by Chyler Leigh’s scene-stealing sibling – Kara making up for blowing off Alex’s invitation to a wedding tasting is just as satisfying to see as her head-butting a telepath in the street.
Alex’s wedding preparations, meanwhile, throws up the discovery that Maggie – unlike Alex – doesn’t want children. As much as we don’t want to see them separate over this, it’s nice that the show continues to find time for them – and does so in such a smart way. That revelation is the result of a brief encounter with Samantha (ODetter Annable), a woman at the waterfront in Episode 1, whom Alex helps. She has a daughter, Ruby, whom Alex also bumps into.
Of course, it turns out there’s more to her, with Episode 1’s cliffhanger seeing Samantha save Ruby with a surprising display of superhuman strength. She claims it’s just adrenaline, but Ruby is smart enough to figure otherwise – and silly enough to put herself in harm’s way the following episode so that her mother has to come save her. Fortunately, Kara’s on hand to stop anyone getting hurt, although that doesn’t mean Samantha’s not got powers – and the series makes sure we recognise that she does, and that they’re triggered by stress. The discovery that she’s the new CEO of Luthor Corp, then, is all kinds of alarm-bell-ringing ominous. Because let’s face it: there’s no way Samantha is going to turn out to be hero.
And so the stage is set for a third season with another promising female villain, joining an ensemble of complex and entertaining women – M’gann also makes a welcome return, as she summons J’onn telepathically to get his butt to Mars, for what will presumably be Very Dramatic Events. A cute little waking-up montage halfway through this double-bill shows how each of these women differ in their morning routines, which is exactly the kind of balance of lightness and character that makes Supergirl so effective. Three seasons in, and, after a bumpy sophomore outing, it looks like the Woman of Steel is back on track.
Supergirl Season 3 is available on Sky 1 every Monday, within a week of its US broadcast. Don’t have Sky? You can stream it live or catch up on-demand through NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription, no contract. A 7-day free trial is available for new subscribers.